Intersectionality: Making a Border Disappear

We’ve examined how borders either exist naturally or are drawn to organize, categorize, and divide.

But what if we could make a border disappear?

Much political campaigning since Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” has sought to divide and conquer by pitting demographic and interest groups against one another, LGBTQ folks, for example, against African-American Christians, Latinos against poor whites, etc.

The approach was a zero-sum game in which political campaigns played on one constituency’s fear that another constituency was taking jobs, resources, entitlement program dollars, you name it, away from them.

Yet, much more binds these groups together than keeps them apart, if we look at how problems and interests intersect.

I recently attended a Twin Cities-area clergy meeting of my denomination, at which a representative of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative spoke of race and how it affects housing justice. One in ten households in the Twin Cities spend more than thirty percent of their income per month on housing; people of color are 3.3 times more likely to be homeless, and two and a half times more likely to spend more than fifty percent of their monthly income on housing.

As part of a church which has recently taken on racial truth and reconciliation work as a primary mission emphasis, this caught my attention. Rev. William Barber and others involved in A New Poor People’s Campaign have exposed the divide and conquer strategy as just that—a strategy, not a reflection of reality.

The recent rise of the term “intersectionality” describes a different way of looking at these supposed “borders” among constituencies: These groups actually share common cause with one another.

I saw this reflected in the 80,000-plus people in a march I attended in Raleigh, NC, last February, part of the HKonJ People’s Assembly (Hundred Thousand on Jones St., named for the street where the NC State Capitol sits): people obviously of different interest groups wearing each other’s t-shirts, carrying one another’s placards, and caucusing with each other as one people, united for justice.

At the Mountain People’s Assembly in Asheville shortly before the November 2016 election, Rev. Barber lifted this matter up again when he spoke of how pessimistic he’d been at first about the prospect of organizing in the mountains of Western NC, a region dominated by poor whites.

But he said, poor whites with no health care had begun to find common cause with transgender folks with no health care; many groups had found common cause around improving educational opportunity; and poor whites and poor blacks had begun to unite around the need for affordable housing, among many others.

Borders often divide, but they can just as often be lines along which people discover common cause with each other—IF they can see where their stories, and interests, intersect.

I’ll be taking a break next week for Christmas, but back in the New Year to explore more of the physical, geographical, and metaphorical borders that provide occasions for reconciliation as well as division.

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